Doing the Hard Things {Junior Police Academy}

by Cate on July 29, 2013

When it came time to filling the kids’ schedule for this summer, I was aiming for a mix of different things. Some time at town camp. Some time at the Y. CCD. Bible camp. The Junior Police Academy. A few weeks that are much lazier with a babysitter. And one week with me off.

At the end of the summer, there will be lots and lots of pictures, and stories, and adventures. Of big things and little things. Of randomness and nothingness.

But always stories.

When I first heard about the Junior Police Academy, it sounded perfect. Developed and implemented by our local police department some fifteen years ago, it’s a one week, full day program that gives the recruits (5th through 8th graders, boys and girls) a taste of all the different law enforcement agencies. During the week, they were either visited by or went on a field trip to the S.W.A.T. team, the Fire Department, the Fire Academy, the Juvenile Detention Center, Animal Control, helicopter medics, the CIA, the DEA, and countless others.

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The kids were issued a uniform for the week, which we picked up in evidence bags from the police department, and were to report for duty by 7:45 am every morning. As I dropped him off the first morning, and the kids huddled together, and then started lining up in parade formation, the Lieutenant leading the session started barking orders at them.

And all the sudden, it was more police academy, than junior.

Which was not exactly what I was expecting.

And I fretted all day, wondering if I had made the right decision to sign him up in the first place.

Four o’clock rolled around, and as the kids spilled out into the parking lot, they quickly got into parade formation and awaited further orders. More barking. Zero congeniality. I spied Nick in the first row, in the middle, and made eye contact with him. No smile.

The Lieutenant and his team waited for the recruits to follow orders, and after a few minutes and he was satisfied with everyone’s positioning, he dismissed them.

As soon as Nick got into the car, I got an earful. Of course, being modeled after the official Police Academy, there was lots of PT, and it was outside in the 100 degree heat wave. It took the recruits 45 minutes to get the parade formation done correctly in the morning before they could move on to the next item on the agenda. Lots of yelling. He hated it. Didn’t want to go back. Ready to quit then and there.

I convinced him to go back the next day. Once the recruits understood the expectations, it would get easier. Settle into a routine. Or so I reasoned. And then I highlighted all the activities he could get to participate in. How many of his friends who get to see the inside of a S.W.A.T. team truck and try on their gear? Learn about drug raids at the airport? Sit inside a medic helicopter?

While each day didn’t necessarily get better, Nick gritted his teeth, bared down, and hung in. {The second day, I received a call from the Mom of one of Nick’s friends, who was also in the Junior Police Academy, and she wanted to see what we thought. Turns out that her son wasn’t loving it either, and had actually been in tears on the second day.}

I reached out to a friend who is a Detective, so he could impart some words of wisdom for Nick. While the real Police Academy is way worse, he knows first-hand what Nick was going through, and he also ran a Junior Police Academy for many years in another department. And that helped.

Towards the middle of the week, Nick wasn’t sharing much about his days, wanting to be done with it as soon as he got into the car, and had no interest in rehashing it.

We couldn’t wait until his graduation day. Official ceremony. Slide show. Diploma.

Madeline sat next to me in the crowd, scanning the rows and rows of recruits until she could spot him. She gave him a very small wave, so as not to embarrass him, and he gave her a small smile. She couldn’t contain herself when the Lieutenant read Nick’s name, for him to collect his diploma, and as soon as the ceremony was over, she barreled past everyone to give him the biggest bear hug she could muster.

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“Nick, I am so proud of you for not giving up, for not quitting, you did it!” I told him as we walked to the car.

Why didn’t you just let me quit?

“Because I knew you would eventually settle in, and find the positive experiences. That it would be ok. And that when you look at that piece of paper you’re holding in your hand … that you know that you really EARNED that piece of paper. You didn’t get it just for showing up. You absolutely earned it.”

And as I looked in the rear view mirror at him, he was looking out the window and smiling widely.

I could have let him quit. And I was second-guessing my choice to register him even after the second full day. But I’m glad I didn’t. And that he didn’t. Because getting him through that first week does so much more for confidence and character than quitting ever will. Several kids did drop out after the first and second day.

When he showed our Detective friend his diploma, he got a strong high five and “you did it!” from him, and I know Nick relished in that. Felt every bit of pride that he should, that he earned.

Even though it was much more like the real Police Academy than either of us expected, his lesson was that he can do the hard things.

And that was worth everything.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne July 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

I’m sure I would have been quitting pretty early on so major congrats to Nick for sticking with it!

I do wonder why they make it so hard, though, when the kids are so young…
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Sherry Jaschen July 30, 2013 at 8:49 am

I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes as I read this! I too have been there and did the same as you…..encouraged them. My girls are 29 and 27 now with daughters of their own. I see them encouraging them the same way and I smile.

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Meg July 30, 2013 at 10:18 am

The hard things — so important. I’m sure my own instinct would have been to quit, too, or to let my kiddo out of the whole thing . . . but it’s better to encourage, to support, to build up. What a memorable and unforgettable experience for Nick!
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